Remember those ingredients that elevate a dish without taking center stage? Ingredients that you add to foods out of habit, and sometimes without even thinking about it? I like to think of them as the unsung heroes of the culinary world. These are the ingredients you constantly rely on, which can always be found in your pantry/fridge – very much present, yet grossly underrated.
As a child I never had much of a relationship with blueberries. My aunt was great at canning, and she would spend summers at her house in the countryside, picking various fruits and canning them with a vengeance. She did not have blueberry bushes in her garden though, and she hardly ever used blueberries. I also remember my parents buying blueberries for me during the summer from farmers selling them by the cup on the side of the road. I loved the deep blue color of the blueberries, but as a child I didn’t know much about them.
This is a dish which takes some time to prepare, but the end result is so worth it! The sweetness of the red bell peppers and the pungency of the garlic come together beautifully and elevate the humble chicken, rendering it moist and flavorful. The meat is so tender it falls off the bone, and the sauce is amazingly wholesome. I need to exercise a great deal of self-restraint whenever I make this dish, especially with regard to the sauce. This is one of my favorite sauces to dip French bread into, and to savor for minutes on end.
Last week I came across a great sale on strawberries at the local grocery store. I bought several packs with the intention to make a quick dessert out of this gorgeous ruby summer fruit. A couple of days passed though, and I was out of ideas. I wanted to make something quick yet also meaningful – a dessert which told a story about me and my culinary experiences, but also celebrated summer and one of its best fruit offerings. Finally, my memories came to the rescue: I was going to recreate the strawberry mousse I used to eat as a child.
This is a dish I grew up with as a child, and I absolutely love it. I remember my mother and my aunt making this regularly during the summer months, and freezing lots of eggplants in plastic bags for the winter. Back then, we did not have a food processor or a blender, and my mom used to spend a lot of time mincing the roasted and peeled eggplants with a knife, in an attempt to turn them into a puree. The process was time-consuming and the result was far from perfect: despite my mom’s best efforts, the salad usually had lumps in it. Thankfully, modern kitchen gadgets make this dish a breeze to prepare.
When I lived in the UK I used to be an avid watcher of cooking shows – Ready Steady Cook, MasterChef, Nigella Express, Saturday Kitchen, and many others. It was one of these shows that introduced me to a strangely looking vegetable I’d never seen before: the artichoke. I read more about this veggie and was not sure it was worth the bother, so for years I steered clear of artichokes, intimidated by their appearance and by the supposedly complicated preparation techniques involved. Fortunately, in time I have learned to control my “fear” of artichokes, and nowadays I often use marinated artichoke hearts to make panini.
I love eating salads in the summer. As days are getting warmer I like to feel my skin breathing through its pores in the sunshine, and I crave easy, colorful meals to match the lightness of the world outside. My body – exhausted by the comfort food of seasons past – is screaming for relief. I give it salad. Lots of it.